If you’re an organic or paid search marketer or a business owner interested in expanding your customer base through Google search, you’ve likely heard of the two SEO tools, SEMrush and Ahrefs. SEMrush has been on the market since 2008 and has solidified itself as the go-to tool for keyword and PPC research. Ahrefs launched in 2011 but in recent years has been building a reputation as an SEO tool with keyword and PPC authority beyond its origins as a backlink research tool for any site.
This guide will break down everything you need to know about the differences and similarities between SEMrush and Ahrefs, including their strengths and weaknesses in key categories. Read on for a breakdown of the pros and cons between SEMrush and Ahrefs, their strengths in key categories like keyword research and backlink analysis, or jump to the final takeaway of who would be best served by SEMrush or Ahrefs.
What is SEMrush?
SEMrush describes itself as both an online visibility management platform and as an all-in-one marketing toolkit. Both are good taglines but at its core, SEMrush is a marketing platform which helps you improve your organic and paid marketing efforts with keyword and competitor research data and analysis.
SEO and SEM marketers, as well as content creators and editors, can find keywords to place ads and create content for, track site performance, and improve their sites with data offered by SEMrush.
What does SEMrush do?
SEMrush allows marketers to find and track keywords, do content competitor research, discover ways to improve their site, do backlinks analysis, and more. Both organic and paid marketing professionals can benefit from using the SEMrush platform.
What is Ahrefs?
Despite its wealth of paid marketing resources and tools, Ahrefs is primarily an SEO platform, which provides extensive site backlink data and a suite of SEO keyword and organic marketing research tools. Ahrefs markets itself as an SEO marketing platform but now provides more PPC resources and data.
Ahrefs also offers Content Explorer which allows you to find relevant content on any subject and learn how many backlinks and social shares this content has earned. With features like this, Ahrefs is an incredible SEO platform which will help you discover keywords for your site to cover to earn both traffic and backlinks.
Pros and Cons: 12 key differences to know
Before diving into a full look at specific features of SEMrush and Ahrefs head-to-head, here’s an overview of the top pros and cons of both SEO tools.
|SEMrush||Extensive keyword and PPC data and analytics. Larger backlink index than Ahrefs. Great all-around SEO and SEM tool for all things site visibility.||UI can sometimes be slow-loading or clanky. Could use a ‘Clicks’ tracker for Keyword Research like Ahrefs. Could use a ‘backlinks to rank’ for a keyword feature like Ahrefs.|
|Ahrefs||Excellent customer support via live chat. Excellent UI and quick-loading data pulls. Stellar backlink research and tracking tools.||Less accurate search volume and keyword data than SEMrush. Needs more PPC specific features like SEMrush. Needs to offer more transparency around data sources like SEMrush.|
Read on for an in-depth overview of each major category for SEMrush and Ahrefs as SEO and SEM tools or click down to your preferred section in the above index.
Keyword Research: SEMrush vs Ahrefs
Keyword research will deliver the insights you need to accurately decide to create content for target keywords or run the right paid search ads. Both SEMrush and Ahrefs offer keyword research abilities with their tools but there are differences and similarities you should know before choosing a tool for this ability.
With Keyword Overview, SEMrush offers you the volume for select keywords, variations of the keyword, relevant questions to target, global and country based search volume, difficulty to rank, and more. Keyword Overview also delivers you in-depth info for desktop and mobile, specific dates if you track the keyword, and similar in-depth features Ahrefs doesn’t offer.
Related keywords are particularly helpful as a feature as you may find another keyword that’s more relevant or easier to rank for.
Ahrefs’ equivalent research tool is Keyword Explorer which offers you keyword search volume, potential ‘clicks,’ difficulty of ranking index, PPC information, current ranking pages, as well as an estimate of how many backlinks you’ll need to rank.
Ahrefs’ generated lists of all keywords ideas based on initial searches present endless options for articles and will help you sort out which content you should be creating or which keywords you should target with paid ads based on intent and volume.
Ahrefs makes a valiant effort to match SEMrush’s features but SEMrush still presents more information based on a better compilation of data. In particular, easy access to keywords’ SERP features like featured snippets and trends are hyper useful for paid and organic marketers.
Key Takeaway: SEMrush and Ahrefs present similar information in their keyword research tools but SEMrush edges out Ahrefs with more advanced features and information for researching the keywords you need to target or buy ads for.
Rank Tracking: Tracking Organic Performance
When tracking the organic performance of your pages, one of the key metrics you should be aware of is how your pages are ranking for keywords. Both SEMrush and Ahrefs offer this functionality but have some key differences you should know.
SEMrush’s Position Tracking is advanced, providing a general visibility score for how your site is performing in SERPs for targeted keywords. Average position in search results is offered, as well as estimated traffic, how many pages are ranking in the top 3 results for keywords, and a general overview of ranking distribution.
Ahrefs’ rank tracking is aptly named Rank Tracker and offers much of SEMrush’s functionality from visibility to tracked positions with changes. With Rank Tracker you can track target keywords your site has pages for, earned traffic, SERP features your pages rank for, and positions held, like SEMrush’s Rankings Distribution.
For rank tracking, there isn’t much difference in the offerings provided by SEMrush and Ahrefs.
Key Takeaway: SEMrush and Ahrefs are evenly matched when it comes to rank tracking and both provide the essential data you need to monitor your site’s rankings and traffic.
Backlinks Analysis: Analytics and Competitor Research
While Ahrefs is known for their extensive backlink research tool, SEMrush now has a larger link index and their evaluation tools are expanding regularly, making them a more formidable competitor in this category.
SEMrush allows you to identify sites linking to your and competitors’ sites, understand which keywords could better enable your site to earn more links, and improve your link building efforts. With SEMrush, users can track analytics for theirs and other sites, audit new sites, and even link build with innovative new tools.
SEMrush now offers an outreach module to find sites to reach out to regarding link building initiatives or connect via social media, and track how campaigns are performing. This innovative new ability expands SEMrush’s authority in the backlink analysis and building space.
Ahrefs offers different backlink analysis tools across their site from the overview page where you can see earned referring domains trajectory to specific hubs to understand the best pages for link growth and links overall. Ahrefs’ anchor text and surrounding text information for backlinks provides much needed context for understanding why backlinks were earned for your site or a competitor. In addition, Ahrefs’ domain rating (DR) metric serves as a means of understanding the strength of a site’s backlink profile.
Ahrefs also offers extensive link information around lost links and broken links to help you earn more links for your site or steal links from competitors. Overall, Ahrefs is an excellent tool for link building and PR, helping you to find sites which have linked to competitors or are linking to broken pages with ease.
Key Takeaway: While Ahrefs is known as a backlinks and link building tool, SEMrush now has a larger link index than Ahrefs and is a more promising platform for researching and improving your backlink profile.
Technical SEO: Auditing and Improving Site Health
For site managers or SEOs interested in improving the SEO of their site, technical SEO can seem daunting but becomes more straightforward the more basics you learn about like site structure and inlinking. Both SEMrush and Ahrefs help you to understand the issues that may be plaguing your site and affecting your rankings with health scores.
To access the technical SEO of your site with SEMrush, you can visit Site Audit and receive an overview of your site’s health, potential errors and other issues which could cause a traffic dip or crawling errors. SEMrush breaks down in the audit, how many pages are crawled, how many have HTTPS coverage, whether your site is international SEO friendly, and how many broken links you have on your site which need to be remedied.
SEMrush offers users internal linking reports to help them find and correct internal linking issues like not correctly linking across your site to relevant pages or having broken links.
Ahrefs’ provides a similar dashboard, offering a health score, extensive link information on the crawlability of your site overall and how many pages were crawled or blocking crawl bots, number of URLs with issues, and number of broken pages overall. From this overview, users can look at individual page issues or download reports to have these issues resolved.
An impressive aspect of SEMrush’s overview is information like average page speed and granular details about meta description, tag, and title issues. This extensiveness represents well Ahrefs’ expansion into being a content marketing resource beyond its backlink information bonafides.
Ahrefs’ audit provides the detailed information an agency or consultant would have provided years ago, and all with additional details for improving other aspects of your site’s SEO.
Key Takeaway: SEMrush and Ahrefs provide a similar level of detail with their technical SEO features and will offer the features you need to improve your site’s SEO.
Pricing: $99 to $374 per month plans
All pricing information is based on annual plans, you can expect monthly pricing to increase monthly cost. In addition, SEMrush and Ahrefs offer upgrades for both plans for more reports and users.
|10,000 results per report 500 keywords to trackMobile Rankings 3 projects||30,000 results per report 1,500 keywords to track Historical data Content marketing platform access 15 projects||50,000 results per report 5,000 keywords to track Product listing ads 25 projects|
Extra $200 per user for each plan. Signed in users will lose their session if another user logs in on another computer using a single login.
Is SEMrush free?
SEMrush does offer free accounts but you won’t be able to access as many reports or features as you’ll need. SEMrush also offers a free trial for 7 days for full access but after you’ll need a paid upgrade to access the same features.
|1 User 10,000 monthly crawls 500 tracked keywords||1 User 500,000 monthly crawls 1500 tracked keywords||3 users 1.25 million crawls 5,000 tracked keywords||5 users 2.5 million crawls 10,000 tracked keywords|
Extra $300 per user for each plan.
Key Takeaway: SEMrush and Ahrefs offer similarly priced plans with slight variations in features. Ahrefs’ Agency pricing may seem steep but will save you plenty with all of the included capacity.
Data Sources and Accuracy: SEMrush vs Ahrefs
As both SEMrush and Ahrefs are marketing data platforms at their core, reliable, accurate data are a must-have. Both companies have revealed where they acquire data and how they analyze and present it to varying degrees of disclosure.
SEMrush sources its extensives keyword, website traffic, backlink, and social data from different sources and details how it’s used to present findings for users. SEMrush pulls keyword and ranking data from search results pages and saves historical data for users. Traffic data is pulled from clickstream data providers and an algorithm compiles findings to offer a traffic estimation.
For backlink data, crawlers are employed to comb 17 billion pages. Online advertising data is compiled from private partnerships and social media data is pulled from public APIs of social media platforms.
Ahrefs reveals that it sources backlink data from its own crawlers and keyword data is sourced from Google’s Keyword Planner and clickstream data. Their ‘click’ metric comes from clickstream data, specifically.
In terms of accuracy, SEMrush is generally considered the gold standard for keyword data because it’s long been SEMrush’s main business and their protocol is well-developed and tried. Backlink data is Ahrefs’ primary business and their link data is thorough and reliable but SEMrush slightly edges them out here as well in terms of accuracy.
Both Ahrefs and SEMrush have similar rank tracking accuracy.
Key Takeaway: SEMrush offers more transparency around their data sources and analysis, and generally crawls more pages and indexes more keywords than Ahrefs.
Learning and Support: Customer Support and Live Chat
Companies which offer marketing software have learned one of the most effective ways to engage their audience and earn customers is through content marketing, courses, and certifications, a strategy pioneered by Hubspot. SEMrush has fully embraced this strategy and Ahrefs is catching up with their own materials and courses.
SEMrush offers courses on content marketing fundamentals, optimizing your site for organic search with SEMrush tools, and growing your marketing agency. These impressive free courses are an excellent way for you to level up your skills as a marketer or agency owner and make it easier to use SEMrush to its full capacity.
SEMrush also offers plenty of content on SEM, SEO, and content strategy on their blog and you can learn a lot more about fully utilizing their platform there.
Ahrefs is developing their course strategy to match SEMrush and has just courses available currently. Despite this growth area, their blog is developed and focused primarily on link building and SEO. If you want to know more about link building and content marketing, their YouTube channel is also excellent and will definitely offer new insights into this world to help you grow your site’s traffic.
Ahrefs’ customer support is far more exceptional than SEMrush, offering live chat directly on their site where you can ask questions and receive fairly prompt replies with complete answers to your questions about how to better utilize their platform. Ahrefs also offers blog posts and Ahrefs, as well as videos, about using the platform.
In contrast, SEMrush’s customer support can be reached via email and can take a while to reply. While you wait, you can usually find answers to questions about using their tools on the blog or in FAQs.
Key Takeaway: Both SEMrush and Ahrefs offer learning content but SEMrush’s content is far more well rounded for different types of marketers. If you are trying to reach support, you’ll have more luck with Ahrefs’ live chat support agents.
Additional Features: Social Media kit, UI, and More
Both SEMrush and Ahrefs offer additional great features which aren’t covered in the previous categories and may not relate directly to SEO but that you should still know in your search.
SEMrush offers a Social Media Toolkit which allows you to track, manage, and improve your social media presence all in one place. Through the Toolkit, you can schedule posts, view analytics, and edit images centrally, making SEMrush an even more well-rounded marketing platform.
Another great tool provided by SEMrush is My Reports which allows you to create reports on your team’s marketing performance for your manager, board, or client right from the platform. While this feature isn’t groundbreaking, it allows you to track your performance and competitors, and compile data with ease rather than having to build similar reports in Powerpoint or Slides.
Ahrefs offers an excellent user interface which is easy to navigate and quick to load while SEMrush can sometimes be challenging to navigate and use. All pages are quick loading and when loading new information, like for a keyword, the experience is quick and intuitive.
Ahrefs’ Content Explorer is an innovative tool which helps you find relevant content on a given topic within a time parameter and offers social shares, number of referring domains, and more. This tool helps you ideate new content ideas and find your top competitors and their successful authors with ease.
As mentioned in the Learning and Support section of this guide, Ahrefs has expanded its content marketing and its developed YouTube brand truly serves as a feature for the platform. Of course you won’t need to purchase a plan to benefit but Ahrefs cares about its user base and wants them to learn to be better SEOs and link builders with advanced video guides that propagate new strategies for organic success.
Key Takeaway: Both SEMrush and Ahrefs offer impressive additional features which further set them apart as unique marketing platforms with valuable offerings.
Final Takeaway: Excellent SEO tools with plenty of features
SEMrush and Ahrefs are both excellent SEO tools which offer the keyword research, tracking, backlink analysis, and additional features you’ll need to make your site a success in different marketing domains.
While Ahrefs is expanding its offerings beyond backlink analysis into PPC and content marketing, it’s still limited in some ways to SEO and backlink analysis features which SEMrush continues to excel in since 2019. Despite the beauty of Ahrefs’ design, SEMrush still packs a lot more features into its SEO tool and offers more value for the average team, especially with the extensiveness of its data analysis and accuracy.
Despite this dominance, there may be individual Ahrefs features you really appreciate, like Content Explorer, that you can evaluate further before you make your decision. Regardless of your final decision, SEMrush and Ahrefs’ continued success and expanding features demonstrate the possibilities of marketing tools which help users increase organic traffic, expand paid and content success, and generally make SEO more accessible to new teams at an affordable price point.